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An intimate trip through queer history.
"An absolute tour de force." ―Maggie Nelson
Strobing lights and dark rooms; throbbing house and drag queens on counters; first kisses, last call: the gay bar has long been a place of solidarity and sexual expression—whatever your scene, whoever you’re seeking. But in urban centers around the world, they are closing, a cultural demolition that has Jeremy Atherton Lin wondering: What was the gay bar? How have they shaped him? And could this spell the end of gay identity as we know it?
In Gay Bar, the author embarks upon a transatlantic tour of the hangouts that marked his life, with each club, pub, and dive revealing itself to be a palimpsest of queer history. In prose as exuberant as a hit of poppers and dazzling as a disco ball, he time-travels from Hollywood nights in the 1970s to a warren of cruising tunnels built beneath London in the 1770s; from chichi bars in the aftermath of AIDS to today’s fluid queer spaces; through glory holes, into Crisco-slicked dungeons and down San Francisco alleys. He charts police raids and riots, posing and passing out—and a chance encounter one restless night that would change his life forever.
The journey that emerges is a stylish and nuanced inquiry into the connection between place and identity—a tale of liberation, but one that invites us to go beyond the simplified Stonewall mythology and enter lesser-known battlefields in the struggle to carve out a territory. Elegiac, randy, and sparkling with wry wit, Gay Bar is at once a serious critical inquiry, a love story and an epic night out to remember.
’s Best Books of 2021
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so happily surprised and enchanted by a book. Gay Bar
is an absolute tour de force.”—MAGGIE NELSON
“Jeremy Atherton Lin's personal history of queer nightlife is shot with vibrant intellectual adrenaline. With keen original insight, he celebrates the gay bar as a site of ribald, sensuous, and urgent resistance. A must-read for all.”—CATHY PARK HONG, author of MINOR FEELINGS
“Lively and dirty, intellectual and gossipy, Gay Bar
is the rare book that feels both like a guilty pleasure and
like it is making you considerably smarter as you read. A super-exciting debut and an important document of queer lives.”—MICHELLE TEA, author of BLACK WAVE and AGAINST MEMOIR
“A book of rare dream-like power
, an exacting anthropology of queer life. Brainy, audacious, funny, vulnerable, and sexy, Gay Bar
is endlessly awake not just to codes and signs but to a culture that’s changing faster than most of us are able to see.”
—PAUL LISICKY, author of LATER: My Life at the Edge of the World
“Utterly blown away. Jeremy Atherton Lin creates something new from a territory that feels so familiar and known. We can never have enough complex, intersectional writing about queer experience, and this is such a welcome, needed addition to the canon.”—NIVEN GOVINDEN, author of THIS BRUTAL HOUSE and DIARY OF A FILM
is searching, erudite, and sexy. With verve and grace, it probes the past, present, and future of queer life while refusing easy binaries. Gay Bar
is about pleasure, but deeply serious too. It is wonderful — one of the best books I have read in ages.”—KATHERINE ANGEL, author of UNMASTERED and DADDY ISSUES
“Each page made me yearn for the dance floor and each chapter made me think about our need for queer spaces in new ways. I'm so glad that someone has written the definitive book about gay bars...but specifically, Atherton Lin, who has captured the subversiveness and sexiness that make these places what they are, or, tragically, were.”—AMELIA ABRAHAM, author of QUEER INTENTIONS
“Like the hypnotic thumps of good house music, Jeremy Atherton Lin’s voice pulses. Painstakingly researched and tenderly written, Gay Bar
marks queer bars as sites of resistance and reinvention. I longed for nothing more than to club hop with him, to occupy the spaces between light and shadow, between love and desire, and to consume the night alongside him so that we might emerge wholly new.”—ALEX ESPINOZA, author of CRUISING: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime
“Raunchy, tender, and bracingly erudite, Gay Bar
is an archaeology, a 4 a.m. afterparty, a disco-and-glitter drenched fever dream. In luxuriant, sublimely evocative prose, Atherton Lin wafts between personal anecdote and political history, exploring the evolution of queer spaces, and how their disappearance is a sign of what we’ve both gained and lost. Gay Bar
is pure pleasure to read: like having an intimate conversation with your funniest, smartest friend."—DAVID ADJMI, author of LOT SIX
“A vibrant and wistful report on a bygone era in gay culture.”
—KIRKUS, Starred Review